The union representing Nova Scotia's 800 paramedics has decided to delay a potential strike until at least Tuesday morning while the two sides in the contract dispute try to hammer out a deal.
The paramedics represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 727 were poised to walk off the job on Saturday, but on Friday morning the union sent a notice through a provincially-appointed mediator that the strike deadline had been moved to 10 a.m. on Sunday.
Late Friday, both the provincial health department's website and Capital Health said the earliest a strike could occur is Tuesday, confirming the sides have agreed to stop the 48-hour strike countdown after a proposal from the paramedics union.
Union representatives and Emergency Medical Care Inc. — the company which administers the province's ambulance system — are in the midst of contract talks with the help of John Clarke, a St. John's arbitrator and lawyer appointed by the government earlier this week.
The union has said the outstanding issues include wages and a demand for defined-benefit pensions instead of defined-contribution plans. It has also expressed its desire for a standard three-year deal instead of a five-year contract as suggested by the employer.
Meanwhile, the director of operations for Emergency Health Services — which has a contract with Emergency Medical Care Inc. — said the company has a contingency plan if the paramedics go on strike.
"It's very similar to a disaster situation. That's the type of mode that we'll move into," Jeff Fraser told CBC News.
"We have a plan that's in place, recognizing that the plan will change the minute that the first call comes in. You have to make adjustments. We have to have some flexibility."
Fraser said managers who are also licenced paramedics will be able to provide limited ambulance services if the regular paramedics go on strike. He said that would mean initially there would be about 28 per cent of the regular staffing available, and only "time critical" emergencies would result in an ambulance being sent to the scene.
The paramedics have been without a contract since 2011.
When the province's paramedics walked off the job in October 1999, company managers stepped in to keep the service operating. But the strike didn't last long as the paramedics were legislated back to work after 18 hours.